By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 6, 2006
A proposed contract to be voted on today by the more than 4,000 members of the D.C. teachers union would enable teachers to earn bonuses tied to student performance and to opt out of some union work rules.
Although both programs would be voluntary and limited to a few schools, the proposals are a turnabout for the Washington Teachers' Union, whose leaders in the past have opposed various forms of pay-for-performance and more-demanding work schedules.
Union President George Parker said the changes are needed so that the District's traditional public schools can compete more successfully with the public charter schools, which have lured away thousands of students.
"The landscape has changed. Our parents are voting with their feet," Parker said. "As kids continue leaving the system, we will lose teachers. Our very survival depends on having kids in D.C. schools so we'll have teachers to represent."
Fifty-one charter schools are operating in the city. In five years, charter school enrollment has grown by 7,000 students, to 17,500. During the same period, enrollment in the D.C. school system has dropped by about 10,000 students, to 58,000.
The independently run charter schools are exempt from many school system regulations and are not covered by collective bargaining agreements between the system and the teachers union. Principals can hire the teachers they want and require them to work longer hours.
The proposed contract would give similar latitude to principals at as many as 10 traditional public schools, but only if a majority of teachers at those schools agreed to the change. Teachers who did not want to participate in the pilot program would be allowed to transfer to other schools.
Some union members said they would be interested in opting out of union rules that govern work hours and other conditions as part of a plan to establish an innovative and academically rigorous school.
Superintendent Clifford B. Janey said such schools would be given the flexibility to hire teachers without having to go through the central office.
Under the bonus program, teachers at as many as to 10 schools would volunteer to take part and would become eligible for extra compensation based on their contribution to raising test scores and their completion of training and degree programs.
The program is similar to one in Denver, which Parker, Janey and D.C. school board members visited in November to gather information. Denver teachers can increase their pay $2,967 a year by obtaining a graduate degree, and the school system pays incentive bonuses of $989 for a satisfactory evaluation; $989 for working in hard-to-fill positions such as in bilingual education; $989 for transferring to a troubled school; and $333 for meeting the goals the teachers submit for improving student performance.
Some suburban Washington school systems, including Anne Arundel County's, pay teachers extra money for working at schools with special academic challenges.
D.C. teachers are scheduled to vote on the proposed contract at their schools today. Parker said the union should have the results tabulated by tonight. The school will act on the proposed contract if it is approved by the union.
If the union membership and the school board approve the contract, a committee of school system and union representatives will work out the details of the pilot programs.
"We believe this contract is a real breakthrough," Janey said. "You can't move a reform agenda unless you have a genuine relationship with the union."
The contract would provide teachers with an average two-year pay increase of 10 percent. In addition, teachers would receive step increases of 2.5 percent to 5.4 percent.
Starting pay would increase from $39,000 to $42,500 a year, higher than in Montgomery, Fairfax, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties. The salary for D.C. teachers at the top of the scale would rise from $75,000 to $87,000, more than in Prince George's and Anne Arundel but less than in Montgomery and Fairfax.
"We have sent the message to D.C. teachers that you are as important as teachers in surrounding jurisdictions," Parker said.
Under the contract, teachers would be required to work 7 1/2 hours a day, instead of 7 hours, and 196 days a year, instead of 192. The 30 extra minutes would be used for planning, and the four additional days would be for training.
The previous contract expired in September 2004. The proposed contract would be retroactive to October 2004 and expire Sept. 30, 2007. But teachers would not receive a retroactive raise for 2004-05.
Some teachers objected to that. "Why aren't we being compensated for the time we already worked?" said Jerome Brocks, a special education teacher at Anne Beers Elementary School in Southeast.
Brocks said he also opposes the incentive bonuses and the waiving of work rules because they are not being offered to all schools. "You can't have one set of rules for one group of people and another set of rules for another," he said.
But Alfred Hubbard, who teaches social studies at Ballou Senior High School in Southeast and served on the union negotiating team, called the proposal "one of the best contracts that's been negotiated in 20 years."
"There's no question that public education in the traditional system is going to rise in Washington, D.C.," he said.
Staff writers Nick Anderson, Lori Aratani, Daniel de Vise and Maria Glod contributed to this report.